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SDML Work Effort

Contact Dan Schutzer or Alan Slater, Citibank for more information.

On May 5, 1998, FSTC released two white papers on messaging format structures for e-commerce. Both documents were prepared by members of the FSTC Electronic Check Project team. The first is a detailed description of the FSTC-developed Signed Document Markup Language (SDML). The second document is an analysis of the issues associated with making SDML compliant with the Extensible Markup Language (XML) maintained by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). In addition, the FSTC intends to submit a proposal to the W3C to start a project that would integrate the capabilities found in SDML into a future release of XML.

SDML was developed as an outgrowth of work by the FSTC Electronic Check Project. The Electronic Check project, from its inception, sought to develop a solution to the issues of authentication of authorship or approval and the integrity of contents associated with electronic financial instruments. The project determined that the essence of the problem was to develop a generalized structure for creating, processing, and displaying electronic "signed writings," where cryptographic signatures would substitute for manual signatures and an electronic message would take the place of paper. The structure would need to support the same business operations as signed paper checks, such as signing, co-signing, and witnessing of signatures, and attaching and removing associated documents such as remittance slips, invoices, and deposit slips.

SDML is a message format structure that allows an entity such as a bill payer to provide an electronic document whose author and integrity can be authenticated such as an electronic promise to pay from funds on deposit at a bank. SDML documents may be digitally signed using public key cryptographic signature and hash algorithms in an algorithm-independent fashion to provide a method of ensuring verifiability of origin, integrity, and accountability. SDML defines its structure largely through a widely used international text known as the Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML).

SDML is a generalization of the FSTC-developed Financial Services Markup Language (FSML), which defines the specific document parts needed for electronic checks, the tags which identify check-specific data items, the semantics of the data items, and processing requirements for electronic checks. FSTC will soon release a proposal for version 2.0 of FSML.

The XML 1.0 specification, released earlier this year by W3C, is used for defining, validating, and sharing document formats on the Web. XML is a subset of the widely used international text processing standard known as Standard Generalized Markup Language (SGML).

"Because SDML defines its structure largely through SGML, considerable interest has been generated in adopting XML as the specification for designing SDML," says FSTC E-Check Project Director Frank Jaffe of BankBoston. "We hope that SDML and XML can evolve together and eventually resolve the differences between the two specifications to produce a W3C approved Signed Document Markup Language standard."

FSTC wishes to acknowledge the contributions of the following organizations in the development of SDML: Agorics, BankBoston, Bank of Montreal, Bellcore, Chase Manhattan Bank, Citibank, CommerceNet, Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, GTE Internetworking, Huntington Banks, IBM, IntraNet, National Semiconductor, Oak Ridge National Lab, RDM Corporation, Sun Microsystems, Telequip, Unisys, USC-ISI, and U.S. Department of the Treasury.

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